Oh the places you’ll go…

By the age of 24–soon to be 25!–I’ve traveled to 17 countries and counting. The list includes mostly countries in Europe but I’m branching out more now that I have a real job and a steady source of income. I actually did most of these trips when I was a student, which is really impressive because my budget was quite limited then. When people ask how I afford traveling so often I explain that this is what I spend my “spare cash” on. Instead of spending money on nights out, eating out, and–I actually cringe here because this is the hardest–shopping; I try and save my extra cash for traveling.  It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it.

So here is a list of some of my favorite places that I’ve been able to visit! I hope they inspire some of you planning  your next vacation.

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1. Venice, Italy

Venice really surprised me because I was expecting it to be cliché and full of tourists.  Instead it was everything they say about it and more.  Venice seduced me; I fell utterly and completely under its spell by the time I left and whenever I’m asked about the city, I say without thinking twice: JUST GO!

What’s so great about Venice? Everything. The views, the shopping, the food, the history, the locals–all of it. My favorite memory of the city was walking by the canal at night, hearing an old man playing an accordion in the distance while I saw an Italian couple, slightly hidden under one of the wooden bridges, laughing and kissing in each others arms. That’s probably every cliché you could ever imagine, but it was also one of the most romantic, authentic embraces I’ve ever seen.

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2. Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen is one of my absolute favorite cities because I am a sucker for the hipster scene that they seem to do so well.  But let me just warn you American’s who think hipster means shopping at Urban Outfitters–this is not what I mean. I am talking the tall, tattooed man wearing skinnier jeans than you are, with his perfectly coiffed beard, riding a fixie bike hipster.  I mean that hipster.  But I think its a good thing, that’s why I moved to Europe; because I like this type.

What’s so great about Copenhagen? For me it was the shopping, the design/architecture (by the way the city is known for its architecture and design programs–if you’re a student interested in these subjects you may want to do a semester or year abroad here), and of course the men!  But hey, if you’re a guy the women are beautiful too, lots of blondes!

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3. Istanbul, Turkey

I went to Istanbul with two friends during my year abroad on a random and last minute suggestion of a boy in my program, just to “try something new.” It was, without a doubt, one of the best decisions decision’s I’ve ever made. I got close with someone who I didn’t know then but is now a good friend of mine, and I was able to experience one of the greatest cities that has ever existed.

If you don’t know–though you really should–Istanbul (which used to be called Constantinople) was the capital city of the Byzantium Empire.  It was eventually captured in 1453 by the Muslim Conquest, where it then became the capital of the Ottoman Empire up until 1923–the establishment of the modern day Turkish Republic. This great city, which has connected the East and the West for the past several thousand years, still continues to find itself representing a mixture of the West (mostly European influences), the Middle East (Arab influences) and the East (Central Asian and Asian influences).

What’s so great about Istanbul? Well if you haven’t guessed by now, the history of course! The city is as glorious as it’s great past; with the breathtaking Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia overlooking the city and its clear waters on the Bosphorus Sea. Here you can explore the Grand Bazaar, one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. There are literally thousands of shop keepers selling everything from silver to fake purses to pottery. Eating in Istanbul is also a treat if you’re into large, rich meals with lots of meat, heavy sauces, and side plates with hummus and bread.  Don’t forget to try Turkish delight and apple tea!

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4. Rabat, Morocco

So I’m going to be a little biased on this one because I am half Moroccan, half American and my father’s family lives in Rabat. But the city is still beautiful, and one of the many growing tourist destinations in Morocco along with Marrakech, Agadir, Essaouira, Fes, and Casablanca.

What do I like best about Rabat? Besides seeing my family, I love taking part in some of the  traditional arab and berber customs.  Morocco is a rich mixture of Spanish, Berber, African, and of course Arab culture and you can see it in the traditional dress, food, music, religious practices, cultural celebrations, and general everyday life workings. I love being at the center of this vibrant blend of cultures and learning about my heritage.

The best places to explore in Rabat are, in my opinion, the Medina (the marketplace which is huge), Chellah (a city of ancient ruins) and the old town.  In the Medina you can shop and find goods like tanned leather, artisan rugs, jewelry, sculptures, traditional clothing, candles, silver and gold products or you can eat, or you can even get Henna done. I would also recommend going to a local Hammam (public bath house) while you’re in Rabat. Most of the locals bath in Hammam’s as its a bathing is a social activity (split between the men and women, of course) and it’s a good way to step into the culture and experience the “everyday lifestyle” of the locals.

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5. Rome, Italy

If you’re anything like me, you imagined your first trip to Rome would be like when Lizzie McGuire meets Paolo and gets to ride on the back of the cute Italian guy’s moped. Well, that never happened. BUT, even though I was sorely disappointed in the lack of hot men trying to  whisk me off into the Roman sunset on the back of their mopeds; I was thoroughly impressed with the Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, the Vatican, the Spanish Steps, and the many ancient Roman ruins that make up the city’s haphazard architecture.

What’s so great about Rome? I find it’s a mixture of the new and the old.  The city is a historian’s paradise, and yet, daily life consists of people taking the metro to work, even when they work next to some of the world’s most treasured historical sites. And the locals make the city come alive, especially at night, where couples are walking through the streets hand-in-hand, and friends are drinking and partying into the early morning at the discotheque.

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6. London, U.K.

For some reason, people like to compare Paris vs. London in hopes of finding out which is better.  I’m not really sure why, because the two cities are so fantastically different from one another one cannot possibly be better than the other.

What is so special about London? Fashion, fashion, and more fashion. London fashion is everything that Parisian fashion isn’t: punk, wild, individualistic, unconventional and rebellious. In Paris there are rules for what is fashionable and what isn’t; what is in season and what isn’t; what you can wear and what can’t.  In London? The only rule is fuck the rules–which sits very well with me.

But beyond the fashion I love the fact that people are generally so merry and that everyone drinks at their local in Pub.  There is practically a Pub on every corner and people start drinking as early as 11:00 am on a Saturday.  Not to mention Pub food is the best for a hangover, something that you will probably have if you’ve been drinking like the English do.

And finally, I love the amount of diversity in London.  You can hop on the tube and hear people speaking Swedish, Russian, Indian, Pakistani, German, French, and Turkish! For me, this is music to my ears.  I think people who live in diverse environments are generally more open-minded, friendly, and welcoming types of people; so just imagine how fun a place like London can be.

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7. Bangkok, Thailand

I went to Asia for the first time this year to visit a good friend who decided to up-and-move to Thailand.  We got a really good taste of the whole country, and I would recommend anybody traveling to Thailand should do the same.  We chose to forego Phuket because it was just a little too touristy for my hipster friends–by the way I’m being slightly sarcastic there–but we did want to see more “authentic” parts of Thailand so we went for Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Ko Samui, Khao Sok National Park, and Ao Nang/Krabi Area instead. This took us about two and a half weeks and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my entire life. Now, even though I recommend seeing as much of Thailand as you can, I’m listing Bangkok as one of my favorite places because the city really comes alive at night.

What did I love most about Bangkok?  Well there are MANY things: the nightlife, the street markets, the street food,  and the shopping to name a few!  I can’t even begin to describe shopping at the night markets in Bangkok.  Anything you want to buy you can find in this city.  I bought clothes, shoes, hair extensions, makeup brushes, makeup, fake eyelashes, purses–the list goes on.  But it wasn’t just buying the “stuff” that was fun, it was the fact that everyone comes out at night to sell things; there are literally people all around you shopping, selling, eating, drinking, and just having a good time.  You can buy street food (lots of fried things on sticks–but also fruit and smoothies too!) and basically eat while you shop around, which, if you’re anything like me, this is your dream come true.

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8. Côtes d’Azur/French Riviera

Basically a fancy way of saying Southern France, the Côtes d’Azur stretches from Marseille to Cannes to Nice to Monaco.  Technically I’ve only been to Cannes and Marseille, but I’m going to Nice in about a month so I decided to include the whole region. The Côtes d’Azur is part of the French province (i.e. think of it as a “state” for you Americans) called Provence, which is characterized by its high mountain peaks that run parallel with the Mediterranean coastline.

What’s so great about the Côtes d’Azur? The landscape is breathtaking.  I would recommend visiting this region by driving along the coastline and visiting some of the famous small towns between the major cities, like my favorite town, Cassis, with its famous pure blue waters and calanques. I also like the 50’s and 60’s charm of these costal towns and their ports that characterize the region.

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9. Sarajevo & Mostar, Bosnia

I visited Sarajevo and Mostar, both in Bosnia, on a class trip where we also visited Belgrade, Serbia. Before I left I was reminded over and over again how cool Belgrade was, and how much I was going to enjoy it.  And I did enjoy it, but I was more awestruck by the beauty of Sarajevo and the strength and vitality of its people.

My class was there to learn about Transitional Justice in Bosnia after the Genocide. We visited the Tribunals and talked to local organizations about how the country has begun it’s recovery process since the end of the war in 1995. The organization that stood out the most to me was an organization that helped families recover their dead loved ones, by genetic testing and matching between the living relatives and dead bones that had been recovered from mass graves all over the country.  I remember the moment I first heard this and tried to process the information–that so many people died, and were quickly and quietly buried, that this many people 20 years later are still trying to piece together what may have happened to the loved ones that were taken from them.

There were also many grave sites, more than normal, scattered all over the city. Many of the buildings were abandoned in the 90’s and still had never properly been rebuilt. One of our taxi drivers explained as we drove by rows of abandoned houses that many people just moved away and never came back;  their houses now taken over by squatters. Many of the buildings were in pieces, with bullet holes riddled up and down the sides. I also remember seeing a large number of amputees, with missing legs or arms due to the large amount of bombings. Our tour guide reminded us that even though Bosnia has a beautiful countryside which would be ideal for hiking; it’s considered far too dangerous as there are still many land mines buried that could be active.

So, after hearing all that, what did I like about Sarajevo and Mostar? As I said, it was the resilience of the people that made me love these two cities. There were so many people there that never left; never gave up on their home. They would happily answer any questions we had about what it was like living there during the war, or even worse, during the post-war period where unemployment and inflation skyrocketed. They welcomed our questions and asked over and over again what brought us to Sarajevo; the city forgotten by the Americans during the war. This is what I loved about these two cities: the curiosity and generosity of the people; not to mention the cities are beautiful and historic in their own right.

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10. Paris, France

Last, but certainly not least, my current home–Paris. I don’t need to tell you to visit Paris, I’m sure you already have or plan to. Paris is the world’s most visited city, and as a local I can say that even after 3 years, the charm still hasn’t worn off.

I don’t exactly know what it is about Paris, but the city is full of secret, little delights–different to each person who finds themselves here. Maybe it’s the vintage stores with old clothes, books, antiques that I like stroll in and out of on the weekends; maybe its the weekly flea markets filled with treasures; maybe its Paris Fashion Week when all the world’s most diehard fashion lovers flock to the city; maybe its the tourists with their overeager eyes, bulging out of their heads as they see the Eiffel Tower or Notre Dame for the first time; maybe its all the restaurants, boasting the best French cuisine or the countless ethic gems hidden throughout the city; maybe it’s that each of the 20 districts has their own distinct je ne sais quoi–but somehow–someway–and even after all this time–Paris still has my heart.

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